The Second Best Thing In My LIFE

Thirteen years ago today I was running around a church as nervous as I had ever been in my life.  My family and friends had driven from all over the Southern United States to be with us.  I wish I could say that I remember all the people who were there, the truth is their names and faces were all blurred. I stood at the front, ready to speak my part but I couldn’t be settled down until I saw her. Then it happened. The music played and she floated down the isle to me (escorted and tethered to the earth by her father).  It was a great day in the history of great days and the best part is that even though it seemed like a dream… it was all true!

We stood in front of a crowd and took our vows.  The pastor pronounced us husband and wife and let me kiss my beautiful bride for the first time.  We ran out the front doors and then came back into the sanctuary for a few last-minute pictures.  At the reception I learned about just what all came with marriage.  Her grandmother engaged me in an awkward dance of avoidance as she zeroed in for a kiss on my lips. unfortunately she won and pinned money on my awkwardly as if to claim here prize.

We headed out the door, where we were pelted with birdseed and were well on our way to our honeymoon.

As beautiful as that day was and as wonderful as it is to retell the story, it was just a day.  You see the second best thing that ever happened to me wasn’t a wedding, but our marriage. And marriage is one of those things that you don’t just look back on, you live it.  Everyday growing, learning, loving, giving, forgiving, holding, sharing, caring, hearing and walking together. Some days better than others, but always together.  And that’s the point.  Always together, through thick and thin, an ever-loving, never giving up, kind of bond that holds husband and wife together.  Its one of the most awesome things I have ever experienced on this earth.

Today we are celebrating 13 great years of marriage and looking forward with anticipation to God’s plan for our life together.

What’s the best thing that ever happened to me you ask? It’s the day that I learned that God really loved me like that.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
(Ephesians  5:25-27, ESV)

Philippians 3:12-16 (Devotional Thought)

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  (Philippians 3:12-16 ESV)

The Apostle Paul wanted the believers of this church to know that he was not perfect. He was still growing in his knowledge of Jesus and his relationship with the Lord. I imagine that there were still things that God called Paul to do, that Paul wasn’t comfortable with at first. He still had to get out of his “comfort zone” to grow. Sometimes we can think that one day it will all be easy. We’ll be older maybe wiser and we’ll just know what to do or we’ll be so used to doing the right thing that it has become easy for us. Paul reminds us that isn’t the case. In fact real maturity is the ability to press on to what God has next without stopping to stare at our belly button along the way. He says it with three distinct lines.

“Forgetting what Lies behind.” Don’t get caught up in the past he says. Some folks are content to hang out and remember what happened last year or ten years ago or whenever the last significant event in their life was. Paul reminds us, don’t sit back and dream of the good ole days. If you’re alive you not only have a past but you have a future. You can’t change where you come from or where you’ve been, but you can change where you are going.
“Straining forward to what lies ahead.” He reminds us to press on that God has great things in store for us. He didn’t just act in the past and forget about us. He’s still got great plans for us. No matter what our circumstance, no matter what our situation there is a way forward, when we trust in Jesus. We were not created to just talk about the things that have happened in the past. He’s also called us to be involved in good works of the future.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” There is a way to lose at life and think you’re winning. Imagine playing a video game where you get to battle trolls to fill your backpack with all kinds of useful items for a long journey. Ultimately the point of the game is to rescue a princess and that’s why you need the items, but what if you just went around battling trolls collecting items and you never took the journey to rescue the princess? You’d fail to meet the requirements to win the game! The Apostle Paul reminds us that life isn’t about stacking up possessions (who has the coolest MP3 player, video game system, etc.), social status, or takes the most trips to Disney Land… Ultimately life is about bringing glory to God.

Today as you pray, pray through this formula. You might say something like: “God help me not to be held back by my past, but help me to be excited for what you have in store for me. I don’t want anything to compete with my desire to worship you and tell others about you.”

Philippians 3:4-8 (Devotional Thought)

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  (Philippians 3:4-8 ESV)

Yesterday we talked about how some people have replaced Jesus with a set of rules. To them, Christianity is all about how good you can be… they have forgotten that being a Christian is being a follower of JESUS. Paul knows what its like to live for rules. He used to be that way too! He used to think that God would be pleased with him because he had a great upbringing, he did everything right, and he really kept a lot of rules.

Then everything changed when he met JESUS on the road to Damascus. He realized that for all his “good works” he still weren’t good enough for God, not really. He was still a sinner and he had never really addressed the real problem of the sin in his heart.

Imagine that you wake up and you find yourself in your underwear (I don’t know how you sleep so this may be normal for you), but it’s about time for school to start and you realize that you need to put on some clothes. You have a real problem though, you are practically naked and you can’t find clothes anywhere. Finally in a desperation you run to the bathroom to see if maybe you left some dirty clothes there (after all dirty clothes are better than no clothes, maybe). It’s getting really close for time for school to start and you haven’t found any clothes yet, but in the bathroom you find a can of paint. So as you look in the mirror you begin to paint clothes on the mirror so as you stand just right it looks like you have on clothes. The only problem is that you are still practically naked. The mirror is covered, you are not.

Paul saw that all his good deeds, his up bringing, his rule keeping was just like painting on a mirror… it temporarily made him look good on the outside, but God looks at the heart. Like all of us he still had a sin issue. So he challenged the church at Philippi (and now us) through his own personal story to consider these things as secondary to what really matters… JESUS.

In fact, Paul says that these things were loss to him! He called them “rubbish.” The translators were being nice here, another word for rubbish is “Poo.” Yes, you read right. That stuff that you deal with, pull a magic lever and send on its way without a second thought. Paul says that everything he used to count on he now counts as nothing.

Does that mean we’re supposed to be bad… of course not! It means that we look to Jesus, not our deeds or anything else to make us acceptable to God. Since Jesus is the one who brings us to God, then we count him as supremely valuable, not what we have done.

Philippians 1:7-11 (Devotional Thought)

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:7-11 ESV)

Wow. It really sounds like the Apostle Paul is getting a little mushy here! He can’t help but be filled with warm feelings for this church who has stood beside him through some tough things. They continue to love and encourage him even though he’s been put in prison, beaten, and ridiculed for the sake of the gospel. They aren’t ashamed to be identified with him.

But it’s not just Paul’s affection that is flowing in this passage. Paul is saying that he loves them like Jesus loves them! In other words, he can’t help but be crazy about this church because Jesus is crazy about this church! Sometimes as a believer it helps to be reminded that God loves us with a “never stopping, never giving up, always and forever kind of love.” Because Paul loves this church like Jesus loves the church, he prays for them.

How do you pray for the people you love? Do you love the church like Jesus loves his church?

Sometimes we pray for the people we love in a kind of selfish way. “Thank you for my mom and dad.” or “help my dad want to give me that big present I want for Christmas.” Or when someone is sick we pray, “help mom to get to feeling better.” I suppose that those kind of prayers are good to an extent because we are told to “cast all our cares upon Him” (1 Peter 5:7). But these selfish prayers are different than how Paul prays for the church at Philippi.

Paul prays for the church to grow more in love. Sometimes we can think of love as an emotion, but love is more than an emotion. Love requires knowledge and action. I can say that I love my wife but then I have to know her and act accordingly. If I know that she doesn’t like to do the dishes then an act of love might be for me to do something like do the dishes. With knowledge comes the ability to act in a way that demonstrates my love. This is what Paul prays for the church at Philippi, not that they would be filled with an emotion, but that they would know God! Then their knowledge of God would drive their actions and emotions. That they would look more like Jesus because of how closely they walk with him. That’s how Paul prays for the people he loves. That’s a gospel payer.

Take time to pray for the people you love today. Pray for them according to the gospel that they would grow in their knowledge of God.

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The Color of Justice (REVIEW)

the color of justiceThe Color of Justice is an engaging courtroom drama centered on the issue of racial reconciliation. In 1964 a white girl is murdered and a young black man is fingered for the crime despite a lack of evidence. Cooper Lindsey an aspiring lawyer with roots in the small town of Justice, Mississippi steps in to make sure the defendant gets a fair shake. The book is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird , even to the point that the author references Mobile and Montgomery with some frequency. The twist comes when another lawyer enters town in 2014 to answer the questions left by the case in 1964 and to defend a young white man accused of killing a young black man.

The Color of Justice speaks well to the theme of racial reconciliation, repentance and forgiveness. The author helps the reader seemingly explore the issues from both a black and white perspective. Early on the main character maintains that he is not racist, but when confronted with difficult circumstances he has to really examine his motives and thoughts. The author does a great job of illustrating the reality of racism in a 1964 Mississippi town without fully engaging in racist rhetoric. He lays down enough hints and interjections to get the message across without ever actually penning derogatory terms.

Over all I thought this was a great book. The author kept the lines of tension tight which always makes for a great read and the inability to put the book down. I know I lost an hour of sleep just so I could muddle through to the end of the book and not have to wait till later. I got my copy from amazon.com who has it on sale right now for $13.49 in paperback.

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50 Shades Away. A Letter to My Son About Love

So maybe we won’t have all of this conversation today (He’s just 5). But we do talk like this about Love.

Just so you know, I love your mom. I mean I LOVE her. That word is so hard to grasp sometimes. We use it for everything from the newest video game to the pizza we ate last night. So when I say love, I mean I treasure your mom. She is precious to me. And when I say that I’m not saying that I “posses” her or have a right to her in any other way than she posses me or has a right to me. The ring on my finger says that I’ve committed to her, I belong to her. It affects my decisions, my leadership, my actions, my everything because we are in this together.

Love is more than something that is just emotional. Because I love your mom I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions. Some of them we’ve shared like the joy of exploring new places or the deep happiness when you and your sister were first brought into this world. Some of them were reactionary like the deep empathy for pain I experienced when your mother was in the middle of giving birth to your sister (no pain meds). I scared myself with how angry I got one time when someone insulted your mother’s character and another time when someone stole her purse. To be fair we’ve been mad at each other too but have almost always found a way to reconcile before we went to sleep.

To be sure, love is physical, but not always in the way you might expect. It’s holding hair back while your loved one vomits. It’s coming home from work early to clean up vomit. It’s a trip to the drug store to pick up medicine. It’s rocking a sick child in the middle of the night so she can get some sleep. It’s fixing a car. It’s doing the dishes. It’s working hard at a job so you can spend your paycheck helping to put a roof over your heads and food on the table. It’s a deep hug that says “I will never let go of you” at the moment when it feels like the world just changed. It’s a holding a hand at the right moment to say, “I’m with you no matter what” (not just at the movies). It’s a sweet little kiss on the cheek every day. Then inside of marriage there is the gift of sex. It’s a physical expression that no one else shares. And just like everything else with love, it is an act of giving. 

You see love is sacrifice. It is commitment. It is work, but above all it is giving. If you want to really experience love one day. Work hard, stay out of debt, and practice extreme generosity. We never love perfect people (though your mother gets closer to perfection every day) and we never love perfectly (hopefully I’m getting better at this too).  So keep short accounts, be quick to forgive, and never hold grudges. Be the first to believe the best about others and the last one to believe the worst.

Above all, honor the women in your life, especially your mother and sister. They are not objects, they are holy creatures made in the image of God and deeply worthy of honor.

1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5, Song of Solomon

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Acts 1: The Blessing of Obedience

The book of Acts or as it is often called, “The Acts of the Apostles” is actually all about the Lord Jesus Christ. We see here in the first chapter that The Lord has risen from the dead and ascended into Heaven. Before he leaves he gives the Apostles the charge to be witnesses (specifically of his resurrection) all over the world beginning in Jerusalem (See Acts 1:8).

This is where it gets interesting. The disciples aren’t from Jerusalem and Luke the author of Acts wants you to know that... Indeed two verses later (Acts 1:10) the angels address the Apostles as “Men of Galilee.” Then again just a few verses later the narrator (Luke) reminds the reader that the Apostles are not from Jerusalem because they went back to a room “where they were staying” (Acts 1:13).

I think this is important because Jesus has commanded them to wait there in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them (Acts 1:4). It seems like the natural bent of the disciples would not have been to stay in Jerusalem but head somewhere else (perhaps Galilee… Home). But never the less at the Lord’s command they stay, waiting for the Holy Spirit.

This reminds me of Luke 5:1-11 where Jesus first calls some of his disciples. He tells them to push back out into the water and fish again. Their natural inclination is not to do it…. they want to clean their nets. But never the less, at the word of Jesus they press out and drop the nets and pull in the biggest catch they had ever seen… It is interesting to note that it is just at that point that Jesus tells them that one day they will be fishing for men.

Now here Jesus has told them again to push out of their comfort zone and stay in the city. He will give them the Holy Spirit and they will be his Witnesses starting in the place He told them to go.

Prayer: Father, You are amazing! When these men obeyed you in the small things like casting out a net or staying in the city, you rewarded them with a real relationship with You and you invited them to be your witnesses all over the world. Today I’m reminded to be obedient to you in even the seemingly small things. I want my priorities to be a true reflection of your will. I surrender to you. Today I’m seeking YOUR Kingdom, YOUR Will and I give YOU my obedience. Help me to not to put confidence in the flesh, but trust your wisdom.